Winter in Paris – The Essentials

Winter in Paris

A Distant Francophile reader got in touch with me recently. She is in the enviable position of heading to Paris during December and January and was looking for some advice on what to wear while experiencing the magic of winter in Paris.

It’s no secret that I’ll happily travel to Paris at any time of the year. However, if I was forced to choose, I’d pick winter as my favourite season to visit Paris. The cooler weather sees you wandering for hours. Tourist queues are shorter. Spending time in atmospheric cafes becomes mandatory. And without their leaves, the trees reveal the beauty of the Parisian architecture.

That said, to enjoy all of this properly, you do need to prepare appropriately for the weather. And that means packing the essentials.

Winter in Paris – The Essentials

A Sensational Coat – Or Two

Given your outerwear is on show for most of the time in cold weather, a stylish coat is an absolute must. If your itinerary requires a smart casual look, then a rain resistant, packable down parka will do the trick, However if you are considering doing anything a little more dressy, you might also want to pack a wool option.

For either variation, opt for longer line coats for sufficient warmth. And make sure that your coat is both comfortable and easy to get in and out of. (Two way zips can be helpful here.) Consider the garments you will be wearing under your coat when purchasing – make sure you have space around the arms and waist in particular. But don’t go too big, just in case your new coat swamps you. Tailored options always look smart.

And don’t be afraid of a little colour in your coat. While I always recommend packing neutrals in winter to save space and to enable lots of mixing and matching, a statement coat can really bring life to your travel wardrobe.

For Australian readers, I always recommend purchasing your coat on-line from either the United States or United Kingdom. You will discover a huge range of fabulous coats that are made for much cooler climates than ours. And you’ll also find that the prices are quite reasonable compared to what you often see in Australian stores.

Dark Coloured Jeans Or Pants

It’s entirely conceivable that you will travel with a dress or a skirt however it’s an absolute given that pants of some description will find their way into your baggage. Both black and dark blue are good choices and can be dressed up or down, and pair well with a multitude of shirts, tops and sweaters. Depending on your preferences, leather could be a good option here.

A Blazer That Fits Comfortably Under Your Coat

Blazers are a staple in Paris and I recommend you pack at least one for days when sweaters won’t cut it. However, it’s not always easy to wear a coat over a blazer. Collars often end up clashing, and sleeves are regularly uncomfortable. It’s for this reason that I suggest packing collarless blazers or jackets with fitted sleeves

Hand-washable, Quick Drying Tops And Sweaters

To save space in your luggage, tops and sweaters that can hand washed and hung to dry regardless of your accommodation are invaluable when travelling in the winter. Make sure however that the pieces you choose are relatively quick drying. There is nothing worse than waiting forever for your favourite piece to transition from damp to dry.

Your Favourite Boots

Travel with boots that not only look good but are extremely comfortable and it could be they end up being the only shoes you wear. My low heeled, knee high black boots have made nearly as many winter trips to Paris as I have. Great for day and night, they are classy enough to take me out to dinner and comfy enough to walk around in all day. I wear mine onto the plane to ensure I have appropriate footwear when I land and to save space in my checked luggage.

And while you will never go wrong with black, tan or cognac boots are also worthy of consideration, particularly if you’ve chosen to build your colour scheme around navy or another variety of blue.

High Quality Base Layers, In Case You Strike Really Cold Weather

Whether made from natural or man-made fibres, these light weight under garments are easy to pack and warm to wear. I always pack both a short and long sleeve vest as they can be worn under both shirts and sweaters. If I do happen to be packing a skirt, I’ll also throw in a pair of leggings or tights (they work under my jeans as well). A good range of base layers can be found at outdoor and department stores.

Fine Gauge Woollen Scarves

Yes, scarves are a Parisian essential at any time of year, but they come into their own during winter. While many of us are drawn to chunky scarves, lightweight versions are easier to pack. If you pack two scarves of complementary colours, you can tie them together to give you a unique and ‘chunkier’ look without travelling with the additional bulk. My favourite combination at the moment is a grey wool/cashmere blend scarf teamed with a grey ocelot print chiffon scarf. This pairing delivers both softness and warmth without any weight. I’ve included lots of tips on tying scarves in this piece.

A Long Wrap That Can Double As An Additional Scarf

Wraps are extremely versatile pieces to travel with. They add stylish warmth if you find yourself cool in restaurants, cafés and the like. And they can also act as a blanket on planes and trains, which are often chilly. You can find many attractive options at every price point.

Superior Socks

Some of the best travel advice I’ve ever received was to invest in decent socks. It seems these items of clothing are generally under-rated, yet they can make a massive difference to your comfort levels, regardless of how much walking you plan to do. Look for socks with as few seams as possible, to cut down irritation points. And try to purchase socks with the highest wool content possible for both warmth and breathability. If you would like to clothe your feet in a touch of luxury, you might consider splurging on a pair of cashmere socks.

A Hat That Suits Your Face Shape

Yes, I promise there is hat out there for you whether that be a felt Panama or Bowler hat or a woollen beanie. Hats obviously provide warmth and keep the rain off to some extent, but they also add another element to your outfits. You see so many great hats in Paris – I actually bought my favourite one there as we don’t have much need for winter hats in Australia. It simply doesn’t get cold enough. Personally, I’d avoid berets (I’m just not a fan).

Another accessory you might like to pick up once you’ve landed is an umbrella. Paris has a number of specialist umbrella stockists worth visiting if the weather dictates the need for a brolly and your accommodation can’t provide.

Two Handbags

I’ve shared this Vicki Archer tip previously and I think it is worth mentioning again. Travelling with two handbags – perhaps a tote and a smaller cross body bag – allows you flexibility. Use the tote for days when you are on the move and need to have everything with you and switch to the smaller bag when you are wandering and can travel light. If your cross-body bag can do double duty as clutch, so much the better, particularly if you are planning for some special evenings out.

One More Thing

If you are also lucky enough to be travelling to Paris during winter, you might like to download a copy of my specially tailored packing list.

This printable PDF guide not only helps you keep track of the stylish clothes you’ll need during your winter travels but captures everything else you’ll want to take with you – both in your checked luggage and in your carry-on.

There’s even room for you to add your own essential items.

It’s perfect for ensuring you don’t forget to pack a thing.

Please click here to immediately download your free guide to packing for winter in Paris.

That’s my list and now it’s over to you, my friends. I’d so grateful if you could help out a fellow traveller and share your winter in Paris essentials in the comments section below.

And until next time – au revoir.

P.S. If you think you could do with some one-on-one help when packing for a trip to Paris the time is right to consider working directly with me. You can find out more here.

About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.

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18 thoughts on “Winter in Paris – The Essentials

  • Kylie Bruce

    Hi Janelle,
    Just wondering if you have any specific tips for a male to pack for Paris? My son is heading there at the beginning of December.

    • Claire

      My husband packs the same way as I do.
      2 pants
      2 jumpers
      4 shirts
      4 socks
      4 jocks
      1 coat
      1 gloves
      But he only takes one pair of shoes.
      This packs in a carry on bag.
      We always stay in places with washing machines.

    • Janelle Post author

      Hi Kylie,

      Claire’s list is certainly a good starting point. Young men are at an advantage when it comes to packing. Jeans, shoes that can take them everywhere, a down jacket and warm sweaters form the basics. Depending on what he is planning to do he might want a nice shirt although that might be overkill if he is not going to eat somewhere nice. Interestingly, while young men always look smart in Paris I’ve always found London to be dressier for young men.

  • Taste of France

    These are great suggestions.
    Winter in Paris tends to be wet, and means messy–you’ll find splatters around the hem of your trousers after a walk through any of the beautiful gardens with gravel paths. Jeans are great because they hide dirt and when the splatters dry you can brush them off.
    Take lots of socks. If your socks get wet, you can change them. Dry feet are warmer than wet feet. A spare pair of shoes is good, too, to let wet shoes have a day to dry out.
    Down jackets are very in at the moment. The plus is that they pack small. If it’s really cold, consider layering one instead of a blazer under your coat.
    Paris is a great place to buy a coat, BTW. Tons of choice. Ditto with hat and gloves. Leave room in your suitcase to bring them back.

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much Catherine. Alisa also mentioned the rain in winter in Paris. Interestingly, I’ve done most of my European travel in winter and have barely ever struck rain (except for London. Of course). Maybe we’ve just been incredibly lucky. Even without lots of rain, I agree with your tip about the socks. So much more important than they are given credit for.

  • Claire

    I been in Paris a couple of times in winter and take the following.
    Padded coat and gloves
    Not a hat fan
    Two pair dark pants, usually black and jeans
    Four long sleeve shirts that don’t need ironing
    Two cardigans that button up ( or two jumpers)
    Two scarves.
    Two pairs of shoes – flat boots and walking shoes (but not sneakers)
    I find that this is enough, our last trip was 6 weeks.
    Alternate the cardigans and pants so things stay fresh
    Fabric conditioner sheets for the tumble drier are great for wiping over parts of clothing that need a freshen up.
    Most of our time in Paris has been blue skies and grey skies but dry.
    Gloves and a coat are the most important items. Rarely do the other things get seen.
    I’ve taken thermals but only worn them once.
    You get quite warm walking and inside buildings is heated.

  • Alisa

    As always, lots of great tips! I have sent this column to a friend who is going to Paris in January.
    The weather in Paris (as everywhere) is much less predictable than it used to be, so your comment re layering is even more critical. I will suggest one addition to your great list: a lightweight (not puffy) layering down vest to wear under a coat or even your blazer, or to wear as a sole outer garment with a sweater and scarf when the days are milder.
    As you say, down coats are very practical, roll into a ball, weigh nothing, and look great with jeans. A 3/4 length will look less sporty than a short jacket length and be more versatile.
    I am going to suggest that Paris can be so soggy in the winter that I am not sure a wool coat is the best idea unless you know that you will need to be very dressy and your coat will be part of that outfit. I suggest a really good classic trench coat, the best you can buy – it will last for years and will slip nicely over a blazer (or that lightweight down vest!). With a removable liner, so much the better, even if it is not the well-known plaid. 🙂 A good trench coat is never out of place except for the most formal events. I wear that on the plane with my blazer and boots, as you point out the heaviest and bulkiest things. (I also adopted your previous advice about wearing a blazer on the plane, it makes great sense.) When going in and out of buildings a wool coat can become stuffy and burdensome.
    The long wool wrap that you recommend can also be used to drape over a blazer or sweater for flexible stylish warmth. I especially like the cashmere and cashmere blend ones, and even those come at a variety of price points.
    Boots – YES! but be sure that they can stand up to soggy. And even in winter cute ballerina flats are not out of place on dryer days.
    Umbrella – it is so likely to rain in winter that it may even be needed the first day. I researched carefully and bought a highly recommended wind-proof lightweight folding travel umbrella that is worth its weight in gold and accompanies me on every trip I take.
    Colors – neutrals definitely, but it is going to be gloomy at least sometimes, so I take some pops of color in the scarves and a cheery rose-colored sweater. I find that charcoal gray is the ultimate neutral in the winter, it goes well with navy, black, dove gray, and even taupe and plays well with brights and pastels. In summer it looks out of place, but charcoal gray really shines in the winter.
    The point another reader made about the hems of trousers becoming wet and dirty is a good one. Black tights with a black skirt can be more practical in really wretched weather – or a pair of the jeans (they are skinny, right?) tucked into the tall boots.
    Finally, I always travel with a few disposable surgical masks in my carry-on. One time I sat on the plane surrounded by people coughing and sneezing and wished that I had one. Two days later, right on schedule, I came down with an awful virus and spent a week in Paris sick in bed.
    And, as another poster said: there are things to buy in Paris, and that is part of the fun of going. It isn’t a third world country, and you will find what you need. 😀
    (Kylie, I have shared Janelle’s recommendations with my own sons – they are very unisex if you think about it – except for the skirt. Men in Paris wear big neck wrap scarves just as the women do. My son would trade a stylish tailored backpack for the tote.)

    • Janelle Post author

      I was so hoping you would comment Alisa. I knew you would have some fabulous ideas. Thank you. As I mentioned to Catherine we must have been very lucky with the weather – we’ve not had any issues with rain and my wool coat has worked for me in multiple countries. That said, I always interchange it with the down jacket. And of course your trench coat recommendation is a perfect alternative.
      I agree with the charcoal grey entirely – I build my wardrobe around it and I also wear my boots tucked into my jeans. Thanks too for the tip about the masks – worth thinking about if you want a healthy visit. Finally, if you know your umbrella brand, I think Amanda might be grateful for one final tip. Thanks again.

  • Amanda

    Thanks Janelle, I have found your post and fellow Francophiles posts extremely helpful. I have decided to take my down jacket and my cashmere wrap… If I need another dressier coat I will buy one there.
    The intertwining of scarves is an interesting idea, so I will experiment with that idea.
    I’m set for gloves, but a hat I will look into in Paris, I didn’t find anything over the winter other than beanies!
    Would Alisa have the brand of her umbrella?
    I have my merino wool undergarments so I’m set there.
    A blazer is something I will need to investigate – any idea brand wise with no collar?
    I purchased my Paige jeans black and I am very happy with them.
    Any ideas for Christmas lunch my son will be joining me for 2 Weeks otherwise I am flying solo.
    Thanks for everyone’s help

    • Janelle Post author

      It’s a pleasure Amanda. You are going to have a fabulous time. I think your coat idea is a good one – the wrap and the down jacket will be a good starting place. As Catherine pointed out, Paris is great for shopping. In terms of the blazer, I have Witchery one that is perfect. It still has lapels but no actually collar. I’m so pleased you are loving your Paige black jeans – they are my favourite jeans. I’ll leave the lunch recommendation to the ladies who spend more time in Paris than I do. Alisa, Catherine, Claire – any ideas???

      • Alisa

        Christmas lunch…Christmas Day? That is going to be a challenge. I suggest just walking – walking in Paris is always wonderful – and doing some window shopping (stores will be closed but the windows will be beautiful for Christmas) and see what is available. Ethnic restaurants will be a safe bet if you want to plan ahead – one time my son and I arrived on Easter Sunday and had a delicious Japanese Easter dinner!
        Janelle, you suggested leather for a jacket. If anyone is thinking about buying a leather jacket in Paris, I suggest a chain called Carroll. Their target audience is a fairly conservative woman at a mid-range price point, and I really love their leather jackets. Priced between 300 and 400 euros, excellent quality, nice styling. I am still mourning the denim blue leather moto jacket I didn’t buy last summer, on sale for 75% off and only 100 euros. WHY did I not buy it? the one that got away…
        As for the umbrella that Amanda asked about – it is a brand called Umenice, I bought it on Amazon and it is one of my better travel purchases. Very lightweight for its sturdiness, it really is windproof, and the manufacturing quality is excellent. Highly recommended and quite inexpensive:

        • Janelle Post author

          Hi Alisa, thank you for the Carroll tip. I’m sure you will shake your head at this, but I’ve never actually set foot inside a Carroll store. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve not popped in – most likely something to do with my whole ‘travel light’ rule. Safe to say that I’ll be breaking that rule and visiting Carroll next time I’m in Paris. Thank you for the umbrella tip – I’m very grateful – and I’m betting Amanda is is too. And I’m so sorry about ‘the jacket that got away’….My tip to anyone reading – if you see something beautiful, unique and within your budget then buy. Shopper’s remorse goes both ways.

      • Alisa

        One idea for a more traditional Christmas meal: Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon. It is located in the train station itself, so it may be open for meals on Christmas. It is expensive but AMAZING and would be a very festive dinner!

        • Alisa

          One idea for a more traditional Christmas meal: Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon. It is located in the train station itself, so it may be open for meals on Christmas. It is expensive but AMAZING and would be a very festive dinner!
          Here is a web page with other ideas:
          (One of the suggested restaurants, Chez Jenny, is one of my favorites and is very comfortable and will feel like Christmas. Ask to sit on the enclosed terrace on the raised sidewalk of the rue du Temple. The cuisine is predominantly Alsatian. Plus it has – IMHO – the nicest ladies’ room in Paris!)

  • Amanda

    Hi Alisa,
    Thank you for your suggestions… I have a lot to I investigate.
    My son had a quick look at Le Train Bleu menu and suggested New Years Eve menu looked good!! I haven’t had a chance to look at yet. You have certainly been helpful.

    • Alisa

      Amanda, I hope some of the ideas work out! I love the idea of seeing in the new year in a train station (Le Train Bleu) – à portent of lots of travel in the year ahead!